A few weeks ago I received a phone call from an animal control officer who was trying to place a Border Collie that had been seized as a neglect case. Because of my present living situation it has been a couple years since I accepted a foster dog but the officer’s desperation and my weakness for Border Collies eventually convinced me that taking him in would be the right thing to do. The next morning my partner and I loaded up the car and drove across the state to pick up a beautiful red male Border Collie by the name of Finnick.
Upon arriving I could see that Finnick was in poor shape. His coat was matted and the deep rich red had faded to a bright golden color that I know indicates malnutrition and prolonged sun exposure. He was also thin and exhibited some very odd behaviors that indicated a lack of attention he had received from his previous owners. Despite all of this, he appeared to be quite happy. He greeted us with a tail wag and a few excited barks while we waited for the animal control officer to arrive.
This is a dog that was definitely highly adoptable. Friendly, happy, absolutely stunning, and definitely purebred. In the few short weeks I have had him in my care I have been approached by numerous people asking about when he will be ready to go to a new home.
Here’s the troubling part: why was the animal control officer who called me so desperate to place this dog?
It is at this point that I want to tell the rest of Finnick’s story. The part that often becomes an example of “pet overpopulation”.
Statistics tell us that there is no overpopulation of homeless dogs in the United States. The number of healthy adoptable animals that are euthanized every year is estimated to be in the 1.5 million range and we have an astonishing 78 million dogs that have owners in the United States. The word “overpopulation” indicates that we would have dogs running in the streets, starving on the side of the road, and running in packs of such high numbers that the environment could not possibly sustain them. This is certainly not the case in most of the United States- so why are we still euthanizing dogs?
Let’s look at Finnick’s story again. I am choosing to protect the identify of the animal control officer I worked with by calling him “John” and you will soon see why.
John had been investigating Finnick’s owners for quite some time. About two months ago he went to check the owners out again and found Finnick tied outside to his dog house with no food or water. Now, arguably the dog could have drank all his water and eaten all his food, but Finnick was also 15lbs underweight. On a dog that is supposed to be a light 40-45lbs that qualifies as emaciated.
Finnick was brought into animal control and John committed to his care for a month. He tracked down and contacted Finnick’s breeder who, unfortunately, did not choose to take Finnick back but did provide quality kibble to feed him. He put Finnick on dietary supplements that would help him put on weight faster. During that time, Finnick went from 29lbs to 35lbs.
When I arrived at the animal control to pick Finnick up, John told me the story of what was happening “behind the scenes”. The reason why Finnick was suddenly out of time was not because the shelter needed the space. They had plenty of empty kennels. It was because John’s boss no longer wanted to pay for Finnick’s care. Instead of specifically targeting the dog who had been there for a long time the other three animals in John’s care were also being forced out. John was told that he either needed to rehome them all by the end of the week or euthanize them.
I live in a state with an incredibly low euthanasia rating. We import dogs by the thousands every year because our shelters are basically empty. I have worked in both southern high-kill shelters and northern low-kill shelters. I have been involved in importing and exporting and adopting and fostering and processing applications and home visits and vet checks and interviews. I have worked for no-kill rescues and breed specific rescues, municipal shelters, privately funded shelters, and privately funded rescues. I know rescue in and out.
Despite all of this, I support dog breeders and the reason why I support dog breeders is because of dogs like Finnick. Who failed Finnick? What is the real reason that homeless dogs die?
I later found out that Finnick was the second dog seized from his previous owners. They had a dog before that had to be taken for neglect. John hopes that this is the last time they will legally be able to get their hands on a dog. He is trying to make the law work in his favor to keep other dogs out of Finnick’s situation. The breeder who sold Finnick to his home seemed to suffer from nothing more than ignorance and circumstance. While she clearly loves her dogs and cared about Finnick’s well-being enough to donate dog food to aid in his care, financially she was not in a situation that would have allowed her to take him back. He never should have been placed with those people in the first place and I don’t actually know why he was- maybe she didn’t know or didn’t ask or just didn’t care.
Who is accountable though? Is it the breeder’s responsibility to make sure that the owners take care of the animal they have acquired? What about personal responsibility? At what point are Finnick’s owners to blame for indifference they had towards the emaciated and matted dog that they walked by every day? And what about John’s boss? We have programs in place to pull animals from situations like Finnick was in for a reason. How broken is the system if a caring animal control officer like John is not being permitted to do his job for financial reasons? If there weren’t so many dogs being imported into the state would John have had an easier time placing this highly adoptable dog? Was it the shelter’s rural location and limited resources?
The answer is all of the above. Finnick was failed on every level and if just one person had done something a little differently this dog would never have been in danger.
Now I know my particular circumstances are vastly different than what some shelters in the south face. I have no issue with rescues that import dogs to safer areas as long as it is not to the detriment of the dogs in that particular area. But I do take issue with the fact that people believe breeders are solely responsible for everything that happens in a dog’s life. This is about personal responsibility and lack of personal responsibility is the reason why we have a problem in the first place.
And then we add yet another interesting level to this case: one of Finnick’s owners suffered from mental illness. John believes that played a major role in the lack of care that Finnick received. So now we are looking at the series of events that caused this dog to end up in such a precarious situation and it starts to look less like the blame is on one person and more like the blame is on the community. The stigma against mental illness, the lack of medical care available for the mentally ill, the hardships of those in relationships with the mentally ill, the victims like Finnick who suffer at the hands of somebody who has so little control over what is happening in their life, the breeder who should have delved deeper into the situation in which she was placing her dogs, who probably should have made sure she had the funds available to take back any dog that may need to be returned, the animal control officer who worked night and day to move and heal this dog only to be told that the finances simply weren’t there to care for the dog.
The community failed Finnick just as the community fails the 1-3 million dogs that never find a home.
The important lesson here is that I made a difference in this dog’s life because I stepped forward and took responsibility for something that was not mine. And I would do the same for Finnick’s owner, for the animal control officer who helped him, and for the boss who didn’t have the funds to care for Finnick. Homeless dogs die because we are not a community. We see something that we don’t like and we say to ourselves that this is not our problem because we made different decisions. And it is fantastic for somebody to be in a position where they can refuse to help. That means they are well off enough stand on their own two feet and that is wonderful. Not everybody has this luxury.
At the start of this new year I hope everyone will consider extending a hand out to the downtrodden regardless of who you are. Breeder, rescuer, owner- it does not matter what label you identify with. If half the world was in a hole and the other half extended a hand to help them out, everybody would end up on higher ground. SOURCE: http://www.ilrdb.com/therealreasonhomelessdogsdie/